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Embiid makes his much-anticipated return for Sixers vs. Thunder

Embiid makes his much-anticipated return for Sixers vs. Thunder originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Joel Embiid’s much-anticipated late-season return has arrived.

The Sixers officially made Embiid available for their Tuesday night game vs. the Thunder at Wells Fargo Center about 30 minutes before tip-off.

The reigning MVP had been listed as out until approximately 5:45 p.m. ET, when he was officially upgraded to questionable. He was deemed good to go after completing a pregame workout.

The seven-time All-Star has been sidelined since suffering a left lateral meniscus injury on Jan. 30 against the Warriors. The Sixers went just 11-18 without him and dropped to eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. According to Cleaning the Glass, they ranked 22nd in offensive rating and 23rd in defensive rating during Embiid’s absence.

Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said pregame that he assumed Embiid’s minutes would be limited to some degree.

Though Embiid was back Tuesday, the Sixers were still down Tyrese Maxey (left hip tightness), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise). Mo Bamba sat because of an illness.

OKC was missing two cornerstone players in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (right quad contusion) and Jalen Williams (left ankle sprain).

Buddy Hield, Kyle Lowry and Cameron Payne have all been waiting to play with Embiid for the first time.

Based on what he’d seen in recent practices, Payne was enthused about that idea.

“Man, with him being out there, you’re going to get a lot of open shots,” Payne said following the Sixers’ Tuesday morning shootaround. “That’s what I know. I know they’re going to be sending a lot of doubles at him, so there’s a lot of opportunity out there. And even defensively, having that big body in there is a lot different. Having him in there is huge.

“But playing with him in pickup has been fun. … You can hit him in the pocket and it’s like another point guard on the floor. That’s huge to have out there.”

Embiid had again been playing at an MVP level until his injury, averaging 35.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 34 games.

He wanted to push to return this season.

“I just love playing basketball,” he said on Feb. 29. “I want to be on the floor. I only have about 20 years to do this so every chance I get, I want to be on the floor. It doesn’t matter where we are (in the standings). … I just want to play as much as I can and try to help us.”